A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall: “Beacon Hill and Bad Omens”

Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, Chapter 2, Edgbaston, September 1960, “Beacon Hill and Bad Omens”

Beacon Hill[Note: The featured picture is of the toposcope at the top of Beacon Hill]

Now and then, we’d take a bus away from town, to Beacon Hill and the castle-like toposcope at its crest. It was only a bit shorter than a bus to Solihull. The walk from the terminus was a bit of a climb for asthmatics like me. I’d need my inhaler long before I reached the top. But it was well worth the pain and effort. We were rewarded with panoramic views of all Birmingham, and even of Solihull. Better still, if we used binoculars as we looked west on a clear day, we could see all the way into Wales. We declared ourselves lords of all we surveyed, ready to defend the new kingdom from gremlins, goblins, barbarians, Minotaurs, trolls, robber-barons, fire-breathing dragons and the Abominable Snowman.

But as the days moved on, there were signs, easily recognizable in retrospect, that the weather was turning surly.

The birds flew south early. The rich gold and russet of late August, September and October were brutally crushed upon each other before disappearing into slate grey skies and angel tears. Stars grew elusive; the sky transformed into one continuous black canopy. By early October, we began staying much closer to home, going only to the woods near Stan’s place in Harborne. Deep in the woods, we’d play at William Tell, Sir Lancelot, Ivanhoe or Robin Hood—at least as ITV presented them—but could make a hasty retreat to the Gupta residence if the weather went from surly to beastly.

After some initial hesitation we confided our planned outings to Cressida. This was in part to save her the trouble of having a treat ready on those days. But it was mainly to gain her allegiance and assistance to cover for us should Mum come home early. She looked ready to give us religion at first. But we knew it was a ruse, that secretly she felt pleased and honored that we trusted her enough to tell her. At length, with an admonition not to “do anything daft,” she agreed to cover for us if we all stuck to the same story.

As far as I know, Mum never did find out.

© 2014, 2015 G.H. McCallum and Duvanian Press. All rights reserved

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G. H. McCallum

G. H. McCallum is author of the Reggie Stone series, the first of which, Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, was released on 12 December 2014; look for the second, The Bluebottle Boys, in late spring of 2016. He blogs principally on the 1960s, Victoriana and magic realism.